Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL with 19-years in the Navy, has been charged with war crimes related to the stabbing death of a detainee in Mosul in 2016-2017. Gallagher is currently confined to the Navy brig in Miramar awaiting word on whether he will receive a court-martial for this incident, which is pending review by an Admiral. He stands accused of murder, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and professional misconduct. He’s hired two criminal defense attorneys, and is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) for misconduct themselves.
And he may have solid ground on which to make such claims. In June, a military appeals court threw out the rape conviction of another San Diego based Navy SEAL, and found that the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, Vice Adm. James Crawford III, meddled in the case by exerting unlawful command influence over it. The SEAL accused of rape has been exonerated and now a three-star JAG is facing an investigation himself.
There is a general perception that unlawful command influence abounds in the military currently, so Chief Gallagher may have a story to tell. Over the last ten years, allegations of serious criminal conduct have swirled around the Navy’s SEAL Teams — especially around DEVGRU — which is a function of the kinds of operations they are so often involved in. Many missions are classified, with oversight within the command only — outsiders can’t even question it. But this trial is about war crimes — not rape or unlawful command influence. It’s about attempts to rein in a SEAL that is accused of being out of control, and the spotty record of actually getting war crimes trials to come to a fair and just verdict will all come into play here.
That being said, Gallagher has his defenders on social media who really don’t care if an ISIS fighter in custody is killed by a knife, gun, or by any other means. As screwed up as rules of engagement can be, as arcane as the laws of armed conflict can seem, they are there for a reason and are binding on members of the US Armed Forces, word for word. While it’s most true that we face a barbaric and uncivilized enemy in ISIS, we ourselves are not invited to defend Western culture and civilization by being barbaric ourselves. Or so the reasoning goes anyway. Civilization is only a generation or so deep. If it isn’t upheld in ways both large and small, it all can slip away into barbarity and atrocity. And once things slip that far, it’s very hard, bloody and painful to try and get civilization back.